Interlaken

We travelled onto Interlaken from Geneva, skirting around Lake Geneva to Lausanne for the first part of the trip and changing trains at Bern, the Swiss capital.

Here are some shots from the train.

Interlaken is a pretty spot – literally between two lakes – Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. It also has two train stations – Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost. We were meant to get off at Ost but instead we got off at West. So, instead of a 5 minute walk with suitcases, we had a 20 minute walk (with head wind as well as suitcases) to our airbnb.

However, I would argue that this gave us the chance to see Interlaken, get our bearings and identify some spots we wanted to revisit. Mum, on the other hand would argue we should have gotten off at Ost.

In the background of this next shot you can see the peak of Jungfrau – where I hoped to travel the following day (it was closed on the day of our arrival due to high winds).

Whilst Interlaken is set in a beautiful region, it does have a tourist feel to it and they were there by the bus loads. It also has a casino but there was no high-rolling for us – we were only prepared to take a gamble with the weather and go for a walk as the clouds closed in overhead.

It was clear when we got up the next morning that rain had fallen as snow in higher regions and my chances of visiting Jungfrauhoch seemed slim at best. The mountains were likely to be shrouded in cloud and the result would be a very expensive train trip to be able to see very little. It was time for plan B.

Switzerland – starting with Geneva

Having left Lyon in France, we headed for Geneva, where we would meet Mum. The train from Lyon to Geneva was full, in fact it was over-full. It seems that tickets cannot sell out on this regional train trip (and that was confirmed by our experience and our go-to man for all matters on train travel – The man in seat 61).

Anyway, we survived the experience and, along the way, heard changes in the languages spoken – with French being partially replaced by German or was it Romansh?

We were now in the country of clocks, feats of engineering which defy gravity and cheese.

The time we had available allowed us to familiarise ourselves with downtown Geneva, including this walk across the lake (strictly speaking a walk across the bridge across the lake) which reminded me of home.

We also took a trip across the lake in a yellow boat – courtesy of our travel cards. These are provided to tourists by hotels and bed and breakfasts and generally include free use of public transport and a range of others discounts.

We then had the next day to explore the old town centre where I came upon this statue of Charles Pictet de Rochemont.

So much was happening in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As well as the French Revolution, you had your Reign of Terror, Napoleonic Wars and then here was this guy, Charles who thought “enough’s enough, off with their heads!” (wait, I’m getting my stories confused). No, what Charles did was prepare the declaration of Switzerland’s permanent neutrality which was ratified in 1815.

What was good to see was a bit of gender balance with the statues in Geneva. The below statue on the shores of Lake Geneva of two women commemorates the reunion of the canton of Geneva as part of the Swiss Federation in 1815.

Another thing the Swiss can do really well is deliver a water bubbler with aplomb.

And sometimes, with flowers.

Here’s some more shots from Geneva’s Old Town or as we in the French-speaking eastern area of Switzerland like to call it – Vielle Ville.

Then it was time to say au revoir to Nikki as she headed off to the Netherlands and as Mum and I prepared for our onward journey to Interlaken.

Just a little thing

I know I’ve inundated you with posts from our time in Lyon. But there’s one more little thing I want to blog about before we leave France for Switzerland.

It is the Musée Miniature et Cinéma. If you have a quick look at the web site I have linked, you will get a guide as to the “tinyness” of each of the sets I have included below.

As a side note, the Lumière Brothers who lived in Lyon in the 19th century are regarded as the inventors of the moving picture. So as well as the museum I visited, there is also the Museé Lumière.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some of my favourite miniature sets that I photographed.

The paint tubes below are about the size of the tip of my little finger.

Oh yeah, there was one more little thing – well not so little really. It is the museum that has been built at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône and it is called the Musée des Confluences. It’s quite spectacular.

And now it is time to pack. Next stop – Geneva where we will meet up with Mum.

Traboules and Murals

One of the things you can do in Lyon is go on a guided or self-guided tour of the Traboules. The linked page I have included provides a good explanation but basically they are covered (and hidden) passageways known most famously as being a means of transporting goods, especially silk by the silk workers (canuts) in the Croix-Rousse area so that the silk wasn’t exposed to the elements. During World War II, they were also used as a way to prevent the Germans from taking complete control of the region.

This last one below is in the Croix-Rousse district, near where we are staying and is quite famous.

Completed in the mid-19th century, the Cour des Voraces also played an important role in the silk workers rebelling for better wages. And as noted in the linked article, the construction of the staircase, in the early 19th century, was a technical and architectural achievement for its time.

In various locations across Lyon, there are expanses of walls of buildings that have been painted with murals – some including local celebrities. I’ve posted a couple of these before but here they all are together.

The first is the largest – again in our neighborhood – Croix-Rousse. It is known as “le Mur des Canuts” or the wall of the Canuts. On the left, the column of windows indeed comprises windows but the second column is just part of the mural. In the middle is the set of stairs that we encounter on our way to and from the Saône.

This next one is close to the Saône and it includes the celebrities. It can be a lesson in looking behind you – we had walked past this spot the previous day and only saw the smaller mural in front of us.

The next day, when I turned around, there was the “Fresque des Lyonnais Célèbres”.

Then there is this library image – “la Bibliothèque de la Cité”.

What is astounding for me is the evidence of the Roman occupation in the area. As we walk from Croix-Rousse towards the Saône, we can walk aside the remains of an amphitheatre, known as the Ampithéàtre des Trois Gaules.

Lyon is a great city in which to be a flaneur.

Vieux Lyon

Old Lyon takes in the area across the Saône and it is then either a hard uphill walk or a quick ride on the funicular to the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière as well as the large Ancient Theatre of Fourvière.

Before heading over to Vieux Lyon, we explored our local Croix-Rousse markets which are held almost every day of the week.

Then it was down the hill to Vieux Lyon. There are many Renaissance buildings in this area – Lyon is said by some to have the largest Renaissance precinct after Venice.

In the shop window below, you can see a display of “coussins” which is French for cushions. The link I have provided gives the history but essentially at the height of the plague in 1643, a large candle was placed on a green cushion in a ceremony to implore Mary to save the people of Lyon from the plague.

Whilst it took a while, since 1960, these marzipan and chocolate sweets have been made and are now synonymous with Lyon. You can even buy them in the little green cushion that appears on the left hand side of the window.

After a walk around (including exploring some traboules), we took the funicular up to the Basilica. Sacre Coeur! Or Sacre Bleu! This Cathedral is amazing! Nikki pointed out to me that it is against French law to charge entry fees to churches and so to see the mosaics in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and all its other beautiful offerings feels like you’ve won some kind of little prize!

And then the views from outside and as we wend our way back down the hill are so pretty.

Here’s some other shots of the building, including details from the front doors and the griffin guarding watch over the church.

Lyon

The good weather has continued and we have taken advantage of it by walking near and far.

The city is divided by two rivers – the Saône and the Rhône. We are staying in the Croix-Rousse area which traditionally is the home of the canuts or silk workers. The Croix-Rousse area is up quite high and part of Lyon that is bordered by both rivers.

The above photo doesn’t really show you the number of stairs you must climb to reach Croix-Rousse but I can tell you from a couple of days’ experience that there are a few (I must count them next time).

We started our walk by stopping in at the local constabulary office and reporting the pickpocketing incident. With that out of our minds, we walked towards the Rhône River. There are a number of pedestrian bridges which makes for much more sedate flaneuring.

On to the Part-dieu region and the famous markets, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse.

We then wandered around the lovely streets and shopping district before stopping for coffee and trying something from Les Gasteliers a completely gluten-free patiserrie.

We then walked back across the river to Place Bellecour, a large square in the centre of the ‘centre’ of Lyon.

In this photo, you can see a statue of Louis XIV and in the background is the Cathedral – Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

This next photo gives you a sense of the elegant buildings around the large square.

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe Menthe Poivrée. It was a delightful spot and the owners took great care with everything they did – from the tranquility of the cafe to the presentation of the food and drinks.

We then walked home (via a circuitous route of course) and here are some of the spots along the way. This next shot shows the view from the edge of the Saône across to the Cathedral.

Next post, I will explore the area known as ‘Vieux Lyon’ – Old Lyon – across the Saône River.

Au revoir Paris

Thursday was our last day in Paris and with the whole morning available to us before our train left for Lyon, we decided to walk to Parc de Vincennes, accessing it via the Promenade Plantée.

The conversion of this old railway line into walking and cycling tracks, surrounded by lovely gardens is nothing short of genius. We have loved every walk we have taken along the entire promenade – it starts at Bastille and goes through almost to Parc de Vincennes on the eastern outskirts of Paris.

We have been fortunate with the weather in Paris and have now visited many of the larger parks on the fringes of Paris – Parc de Buttes-Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and now Parc de Vincennes. In addition, we have wandered through Jardin des Plantes and Parc Bercy. We ran out of time for Jardin du Luxembourg (next time 😉).

Arriving at Parc de Vincennes before 10.00 am, it was very peaceful and lovely to walk around the lake within the park.

This fellow was very keen to show us just who was king pin:

We then made our way to Gare de Lyon to catch our train to Lyon.

Arriving in the second largest city in France, we found our way to the bus that would connect us to the metro we needed. A woman at the bus stop offered us two free bus tickets and we thought things had gotten off to a really good start.

When we finally arrived at our apartment, after a quick settling in, we were ready to explore. That’s when Nikki realised she had been pickpocketed. We think it happened on the bus which was very crowded. And, while we will never know for sure, we think the woman with the free tickets was involved – perhaps identifying an easy target as she would have seen Nikki with her wallet. But we will never know and what did it matter, the wallet was stolen and we needed to cancel cards asap! It was a salient lesson for us both and for all travellers!

Needless to say, the gloss came off Lyon. However, once we visited the police station the next morning and lodged a report, Nikki put it all behind her and I have really enjoyed having her as my travelling companion in Lyon.

Versailles

Many months ago, Nikki had booked a tour of Versailles through airbnb. We knew in recent days that there was a strong chance of rain on the day of our tour so we made sure we had all the necessary provisions, just in case. Stu and Niki – our guides from Boutique Bike Tours – met our group at a train station in Paris and accompanied us all on the train to the delightful town of Versailles. Then we were split into two groups, provided with a bike each and rode through the streets of the town towards the Chateau of Versailles. Stu had moved with his family from England to Versailles as a boy and has lived in the town on and off since then. He also has studied French History and has a wealth of knowledge on all the Louis kings you care to mention. But most importantly, especially with light rain starting to fall, his tour fast-tracked us through a side entrance so we did not have to wait outside with the peasants (in the photo above you can see some of them waiting hopefully outside the gates with their cute little umbrellas).

Once inside, we learnt the history of why and how Versailles became the seat of power under the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. Starting with the Sun King, Louis XIV, his presence can been felt in almost every room – with paintings or sculptures to remind his foes of his power. His reign is the epitome of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Stu kept reminding us how fortunate we were to be in the Chateau on this day as the crowds were comparatively small.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story but just to note that our good luck continued as on the day of our visit, the Queen’s rooms were reopened.

Stu was very good at monitoring the crowd flow and giving us more or less information as he felt would help us to see rooms to their best advantage. After leaving the Chateau, we all got on our bikes and rode back to Versailles to the market – awarded the best market in France! We bought our lunch supplies and then rode through the grounds of the “grand parc” (the petit parc encompasses the manicured grounds and the grand parc is then as far as the eye can see). We ended up back in the petit parc where we lunched by the grand canal.

In the first image, you can see the Chateau in the distance. Up until this point, Stu had been our guide, after lunch, he and Niki swapped groups and Niki took us onto the ‘petit trianon’ – a retreat used by some of the queens and mistresses, including Madame Pompadour. This is a photo taken in the grounds.

In a little rotunda is a statue of cupid commissioned by Marie Antoinette.

Speaking of the queen who may or may not have said “let them eat cake”, she was not well loved by the people or the court and so had a romantic Normandy farm built on the grounds to which she and  her children could escape each day. Here we are standing by her little lake with the lighthouse and residence in the background.

Our sombre faces belie the fun we are having! We must be suffering from post-lunch something.

Then we were back on our bikes to stroll through the gardens of the petit parc.

It was a full day. We had met at the cafe near the metro before 8. 00 am and we were riding our bikes back to Versailles in time to catch the train back to Paris at 5. 30 pm.

I think I can speak for all in the group to say that it was a great day and way to visit the Chateau and the grounds.

Paris and its parks

You know when you have a plan and it “evolves” as you go along? Well that’s what happened as we step out the door onto Avenue Daumesnil. I blame my sister – Nikki said “I’m in your hands”. So with that in mind, we started walking and 30,000 steps later, we stopped (with a break for coffee – bonjour Cafeotheque again – and dejeuner on our little balcony).We are staying in the 12th arrondissement – on the east side of Paris – an easy walk to Parc Bercy, which I have written about previously. The serenity of the park belies the activity and traffic that surrounds it.Next to the park is Bercy Village – what was a large wine storage area has been turned into a number of boutiques and eateries.From here we wandered towards the Seine and, before crossing the wide and peaceful pedestrian Bridge – Simone de Beauvoir – we saw these interesting sculptures.We then walked over to Le Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful formal garden with well manicured trees. From there we walked along Rue Monge in the Latin Quarter, passing near the Notre Dame (before the dreadful fire). And then we kept on walking, back over the Seine until we reached Cafeotheque. Next stop was Village Saint Paul in the Marais district. It was very quiet on Monday morning but I imagine it would be very happening on a weekend with antique shops, restaurants and other specialty stores.We then walked onto Gare de Lyon. Before returning home, we walked along the converted railway line – Promenade Plantée – now a beautiful walking trail, with gardens and seating areas.Then home for lunch. Next we caught the metro north to take us up to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. As you can see, we are up high and have views across Paris – at some spots you can see Sacre Coeur in the distance.We then walked onto Parc de Belleville.And then our feet said “can we please go home” and we said “d’accord” and as a reward for your loyal work, we will take off our shoes when we get there! After all, you have to be in top form for our trip to Versailles tomorrow.